The Magic of the Morrigan: Mighty Macha
Meet Mighty Macha
Mighty Macha, sister of Badb and Anu of the sisters Morrigan, truly lives up to the family name. The Morrigan is a multi-faceted goddess, with many names and faces. Entire books fail to encompass her essence, so I would never do her justice if I were to try to introduce each sister and the Triple Goddess in one sitting. Instead, here I will focus on the sister I met first: Macha. She has an incredibly rich history, possessing an array of skills, and affecting multiple major aspects of life. As a Sun Goddess and Goddess of the Land, Macha connects us to the vibrant, energetic power of the sun, and to abundance and fertility through the powers of the earth. Her darker aspects appear as a warrior queen with a prowess in battle, championing her right to sovereignty and rulership.
In ancient Celtic history, Macha was recorded to have had three separate incarnations: A Goddess of the Tuatha De Danann when they first settled Ireland; a Warrior Queen who could not be defeated on the battlefield, and finally, as a Faery woman. The second and third appearances are both tied to Emain Macha, which was the mythical capital of Ulster—a hill fort from the bronze age in real life. I will summarize each of her roles, then explain how her various aspects can influence your life today. I encourage those who feel drawn to Macha to continue researching this magnificent goddess and will provide suggestions for initiating a devotional practice that will help you forge a strong and healthy relationship with her.
Macha's Many Roles
We first meet Macha as a goddess of the land and the sun. She was married to Nemed of the Tuatha De Danann. Nemed dedicated a field to his wife, and when she gazed upon the gift, she received a vision of bloodshed and carnage so horrific she died of heartbreak. Her vision was that of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, the war between Connacht and Ulster. She was buried in Ard Macha, modern-day Armagh Ireland.
The second incarnation of Macha is the mortal battle queen, Macha Mong Ruad (Macha of the Red Tresses). Her father was King Aed Ruad, who ruled Ireland with two other kings, Dithorba and Cimbaeth. To keep the peace, the kings took turns ruling—each on the throne for seven years before passing it on to the next in line. King Aed Ruad drowned, leaving Macha the crown. It could be said that the Morrigan, having connections to riverways and water, was responsible for the Kings’ death. She is known for removing rulers that were not fit for the throne. When it came to be Aed’s turn, Macha went to court expecting to be handed the crown as she had seen it passed to her father her whole life.
Despite women having equal rights in society, Dithorba and Cimbaeth did not want to rule alongside a woman and refused to grant her sovereignty. Macha promptly took up arms and fought for her sovereignty, thus gaining her title "Battle Queen". Only seven years after winning the throne was she challenged again. The sons of Dithorba and Cimbaeth arrived, expecting her to hand over the reins. She told them: "Not by favor did I obtain it...but by force in the battlefield." 1 The sons called upon their armies, but they were no match for the Battle Queen. When they realized they were losing, the sons fled to the forest to hide. Macha found them, transformed herself into a hag and approached the camp. Despite her appearance, the men began lusting after Macha. One by one, she took them into the woods for relations. After laying with her, the men could not move or speak. Macha magically bound the men. She put them in chains and brought them back to Ulster.
In addition to her shapeshifting and powerful magic of binding, her divinity is further alluded to when she tells the men what size the fort should be. She took her broach, and traced around her body in the ground wit the pin, saying the fort should be that big around. Her gargantuan stature was so immense that the only explanation could be that she was of the Otherworld.
After her life as the Battle Queen, she returns as a Fairy woman. She appeared in the home of Crunnchu, a lonely widower whose life had gone array when his wife died. Crunnchu’s life transformed dramatically in a very short period of time. His fields were fertile and prosperous, his home neat and orderly. In addition to the transformation of the land exhibiting Macha’s fertile nature, she soon became pregnant with twins. As the babies grew in her belly, Macha and Crunnchu lived a happy life together. Just before leaving for the fair, the heavily pregnant Macha makes Crunnchu promise to not tell anyone about her. She forbade it actually, and the grateful man agreed. Now, the Celts were notorious for their love of drinking and lively partying. So, naturally, Crunnchu drank heavily at the fair and soon forgot his promise. He boasted that his wife could run so fast, she could beat the king's horses at a foot race. The king overheard and was not happy. Intending to humiliate Crunnchu for offending the king by insulting his horses, he had Macha brought to the fair immediately and ordered her to race his fastest steed. She had gone into labor and begged him for mercy. She begged the whole crowd of Ulster men to help her, she was quoted saying “Help me! For a mother bore each one of you!”. Not a soul, not even her husband, came to her aid. She raced, and she won, but the exertion of running on top of the labor of twins was too much for her body. She collapsed, delivered the twins, and died cursing the Ulster men.
She swore that as a punishment for their cruelty, every Ulster man would feel the weakness like that of a woman in labor for five days and four nights when he found himself in need of his strength the most. This curse is the reason the Cattle Raid of Cooley, the very battle that Macha in her Goddess role foresaw, was so grisly. When Maeve’s army attached, the Ulster men were stricken with pains like a woman feels in labor. As a mother who had an emergency delivery with no pain medication, I can imagine how defenseless they were.
Macha is much more than the three roles she played throughout history. Each role possesses qualities and aspects that influenced the lives of people today just as much as the ancient Celts. Macha may be called upon for help or wisdom regarding a plethora of things. You may call for abundance from Macha as the Goddess of the Sun, Land and Fertility. If life has worn you out, step into the sunlight and Macha can replenish you. As you feel the warmth of the sun, and the sturdiness of the ground, see Macha’s bright, vibrant light filling your body. I just moved into a new apartment, and the only help I’ve had was with my bed, couch and dining room table—the big stuff. Everything else, all the decorations on the wall, all of my sons’ toys, all the messes left behind, have been on me to take care of, while keeping my two-year-old son in line!
Every time I felt like I had been defeated by the chaos of this move, I would go outside, close my eyes, and just feel the sun. Even if it was a rainy cloudy day—it was still light which means the radiant power of Macha was still shining through. It is a common notion in modern times that the sun is a masculine energy, and the moon is feminine. The Celts didn’t see it that way. They had several sun goddesses. Macha’s Welsh counterpart, the Horse Goddess Rhiannon, wore a skirt of golden silk ribbons to resemble the rays of sun. The horse was also Macha’s totem animal. The Celts’ associated the horse with wealth, fertility and abundance – which supports the qualities assigned to Macha as a goddess of the sun and land.
Another aspect of Macha that is of particular relevance to me is the Queen aspect, the Goddess of Sovereignty. Stephanie Woodfield of Celtic Lore & Spellcraft says that the queen aspect is personified as a woman who is past childbearing years, that has established her career and is finally coming to own herself—she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, she is going to do her. I am a huge fan of Woodfield, and I respect and admire her as a writer, but I would have to say personally I disagree—I don’t think a woman’s age, fertility, nor career have anything to do with it. When I imagine who the Goddess of Sovereignty is aiming to empower, I see her there for every woman who was ever told that she was not good enough, any woman who was made to feel that her opinion didn’t matter—or worse, that she didn’t matter—that is ready to break free from those crushing words and live her life without taking heed to the opinion of anyone anymore. I am only 30 years old, so I am still well within my child-bearing years, and I am just now figuring out the career I want. But my whole life I did what I thought would make others most proud of me. Now that I have a child of my own, now that I have broken free from my abusive partner, I am living the life I have dreamt of having since I was a child. I am a writer, I am a witch, and I am in control. Do I still worry about what others think from time to time? Of course I do! Do I let it get me down? Sure, I have times of weakness. But when I do, I call on Mighty Macha. She thrusts a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, and together we fight back those who seek to usurp my power.
“In her warrior aspect, the Great Goddess is the guardian of personal power, a deep well of strength that exists within each of us; brandishing both sword and shield in defense of herself and others, she refuses to allow others to use her.”— ~Stephanie Woodfield (Woodfield, 2018, p. 248)
My Goddess Altar and Witch Room
Devotional Practice: Honoring Mighty Macha
Through devotional practice, you too can harness the power of Macha. She can infuse your body with energy, bless you with abundance, share words of wisdom and will give you intense strength like that of a Celtic warrior.
The first step towards working with Macha is researching her myths and legends. Of the handful of books I've read about the Morrigan, by Stephanie Woodfield was by far the best. Each chapter she introduces you to a different guise of the goddess and then focuses on the roles those guises play in your life. She starts each chapter with a guided journey so you can familiarize yourself with the energy of the aspect, and provides several spells and rituals that enrich both your life and your relationship with the Morrigan. It was this book that really helped me see past the misconceptions of the goddess and invite her into my life, and it has improved tenfold since. Celtic Lore & Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess
When you have a firm grasp of the lore of Macha, you can proceed with your devotional practice. The key to harnessing the power of this mighty goddess is the relationship with her. While she demands respect, and rightfully so, it is not the subservient relationship that is expected of followers of other faiths. You are not expected to blindly follow her. If she asks you to do something for her, you can ask her for something in return. You can even ask to do something different! Just never promise to do something for her and then fail to keep that promise (keep Crunnchu in mind!). You should have an altar for her, where you can leave offerings, and sit to do journey work or meditations. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. I have included photos of my altar, as well as my 'witchy room' as I like to call it. Really, it's a walk-in closet with a bookshelf, an end table, a plastic set of drawers, and a yoga mat with a blanket over it for me to sit on.
I have decorations all through my house—along with spell books and Craft crafts—but having a space to go where you have privacy and space to focus is important. Also, because I have a small child, I have one of those frustrating child safety things over the knob so my son can't get into my candles, herbs, etc. That is also something to keep in mind when you are 'setting up shop'.
My last bit of advice is this: your relationship with Macha is exactly that, yours. So what matters most when you are conducting research, building your altar, providing offerings, etc, is that they feel right to you. I think that is one of the beautiful qualities of Paganism—that as long as your heart is in the right place then you can't go wrong. There's no ultimate book specifying you have to put this here or that there, you have to say this and offer that. If it feels right to you, and you feel as though the Goddess accepts what you offered/did/said, then you are on the right track.
Red, Dark Brown
Vervain, Oats, Coltsfoot
Garnet, Clear Quartz, Citrine
Full Moon, Waxing Moon
Midday, Summer, Harvest Festivals
Endnotes and References
1 (Woodfield, 2018, p.54)
Daimler, M. (2004). The Morrigan, Meeting the Great Queen. Moon Books.
Took, T. (2018). Macha. Retrieved 05 15, 2018, from A-muse-ing Grace Gallery: The Magical Art of Thalia Took: http://www.thaliatook.com/AMGG/macha.php
Woodfield, S. (2011). Celtic Lore & Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess: Invoking the Morrigan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Path of Macha: Guided Meditation by Stephanie Woodfield
© 2018 Amanda Wilson